This is a good 10km round route that takes you to both sides of the island and includes Popeye Village, Ghadira Bay, St Agatha’s Tower (or the red tower), Foresta 2000 Nature Reserve, Mellieha Village and the secret ‘Grotto of our Lady’. It also includes a few steep climbs.
As it’s a loop you can start the walk from anywhere. I decided to start at the Starbucks at the end of Ghadira beach. Easy parking and coffee – say no more.
Our group met up and immediately headed towards Mellieha. A bit of a cruel start as it was uphill but good to get one of the climbs out the way whilst we had some energy.
It starts with a climb
We followed the road up to the village of Mellieha. Although we were just on the pavement of a fairly busy road it’s a scenic road with dramatic stone high walls with Mellieha Parish Church perched at the top. This 19th-Century Church defines the landscape of Mellieha. Go inside and you’ll find the walls decorated by well-known Maltese artists such as Giuseppe Calì and Lazzru Pisani.
Grotto of our Lady
It’s easy to be distracted by the Parish Church but if you look to your left as you approach you’ll find a small door leading to some steep steps downwards. This is the lesser-known ‘Grotto of our Lady’ which is a tiny chapel built in a natural cave. Once you enter you go into a dimly lit cave with a shrine at the end. The only light is from a shaft above and some glowing candles around the shine.
Hanging on the back wall are letters, prayers and items of baby clothing. Apparently from some who were ill but then healed and others from people seeking help.
We continued onwards and upwards. The reason Mellieha is so lovely is that it sits up high and has such amazing views. The downside is that it is hilly, all over and we were heading straight to the top. Yup – lots of steps.
When we reached the top we had a bit of a scary walk along the main road for a bit followed by a jump over a barrier and dash across the dual carriageway. However, once we left the main road all was good. A dusty path alongside a quarry then took us on towards Anchor Bay.
Along we continued to the famous Popeye Village at Anchor Bay. Famous because it was built for the film Popeye back in 1980 starring Robin Williams. The film set was left in place and today is a kind of low performing theme park for kids.
The buildings look like they are about to collapse into the sea but it’s part of the appeal I suppose. We have visited several times for children’s parties and to see a slightly scary elf display as part of Santa’s Christmas grotto. It’s a bit of a strange place in my opinion. Slightly spooky and dated but nice to view from above and the water was beautiful.
DANGER – NO ENTRY
Slight confusion trying to find the path onwards from here. It was located behind the restaurant with a big DANGER – NO ENTRY sign in front of it. Ignoring this we went through and were back on the dusty path. It looked like another climb up on to the Martha Ridge but actually, we walked along below it and didn’t have to start climbing until we were right under the Red Tower.
St Agatha’s Tower (the Red Tower)
This tower which you can see clearly from most places in the North of Malta sits high on the Martha Ridge. Built in 1649 during the rule of the Order of the Knights of St John the tower played an important role in the defence of Malta.
Its key position meant that it was also an important defence in WWI and WWII. The outer walls of the tower are 4-metres thick. It’s looking pretty good considering it’s been standing proudly for over 300 years but this is in fact down to a recent restoration in 2020.
A fresh coat of paint has given the tower a proud new look and restored its importance as a major heritage site in Malta. Pre-covid the tower would welcome over 30,000 visitors annually. We don’t know why it is red but this colour is supposed to be the same as the original colour.
Foresta 2000 Nature Reserve
This area around the tower is the Foresta 2000 Nature Reserve, an area of natural habitat. It’s been regenerated to create a Mediterranean woodland. Springtime is the perfect time to walk through as the wildflowers were all in bloom.
Back to the main road and we made our way to Ghadira Bay, the longest sandy beach in Malta. The sandy beach and very shallow waters make it very popular with families in particular and there are a few nice restaurants. Taco and I walked along the beach. Another dog took a shine to her and pretty soon she was wet and rolling in the sand and seaweed. Hmmm. Not so good for getting back in Lynn’s car.
The Mauve Stinger
Today there were literally hundreds of dead jelly fish along the beach. These were ‘Mauve Stringer’s the most common jellyfish to be found in Malta. I think everyone in my family has been stung by one of these at some point. The best thing to do is to keep saltwater on the sting. Some say vinegar but I don’t think that works. Baking soda apparently helps and then scraping the sting with a credit card to remove any tentacles that are in the skin.
Finally, we were back to the cars at Starbucks. We all sat down at BLU Beach Club which is in a gorgeous location right by the water. However at 11.30 they weren’t offering any sandwiches or brunch so we had to make do with smoothies.
A bit of dispute on the distance but the walk was somewhere between 9.5 and 10km. Minus the scary walk along the main road, this was a great hike to see both sides of the island in one walk and some great views.